Myths and facts on immigration

February 22, 2008

IN THE context of increased raids and deportations, more detention centers and further border militarization, Jane Guskin and David Wilson provide readers with a basic political framework to dispel common myths about immigration put forward by the mainstream media in The Politics of Immigration: Questions and Answers.

Immigration is a topic that has been polarizing through most of U.S. history. This book succeeds in switching the narrow terms of debate from guest-worker programs and mass deportations to an open-borders policy that would allow the free flow of people across borders as the only real solution to the crisis today, where undocumented workers effectively live under second-class status.

The book is structured in a way that addresses specific questions many immigrant activists face, such as border enforcement, guest-worker programs, the war on terror, and racism. In one section, it raises the contradiction of upholding unjust laws, such as the 1986 Immigration and Control Act, which granted legalization for 2.5 million people but also set the stage for more crackdowns on the current undocumented population of 12 million.

The book shows the importance of a broader understanding of the complex interaction of racism, global economics, foreign policy and a legal system that restricts the migration of people while allowing the free flow of capital.

In this way, the book steers the debate away simply from the question of morality to the reasons why a flawed system has caused the destruction of families, more deaths at the border, and created a market for human and drug trafficking. Most importantly, it explains the ways in which the ability of immigrant workers to fight back for better working conditions and better wages has been limited.

Guest-worker programs have been pushed by big business to maintain access to cheap labor. Historically, they have been used as a way to avoid unpopular raids yet "maintain a captive labor pool" under strict control through the constant threat of deportation. This threat undermines the rights of workers to organize for due compensation and better conditions.

In 1986, a group of 100 sugar cane cutters with H-2 guest-worker visas in Florida refused to go back to work in protest of the theft of their wages. Shortly after, they were met by riot police and vicious dogs and quickly deported back to Jamaica and blacklisted.

In order to move the debate forward and make our own demands for legalization, our side needs to be armed with the tools to combat the right-wing ideology that justifies the attacks on immigrant workers by associating immigrant communities with terrorist acts, criminal activity and the lowering of living standards.

The book challenges the superficial but commonly encountered racist claims of Mexicans "stealing American jobs" by looking at the historical role of foreign investment in Mexico since the Revolution of 1910 to the more recent history of the implementation of neoliberal policies. The passing of the 1994 North American Free Trade Agreement played a decisive role in the destabilization of the economy of Mexico in the interest of U.S. multinationals.

At its height in the spring of 2006, the immigrant rights movement mobilized masses on the streets to demand amnesty. Today, groups of activists are fighting back locally in neighborhood responses to deportation raids and union organizing drives. This begins to lay the basis for the kind of politics it is going to take to create a stronger movement that can succeed in winning open borders.

Further Reading

From the archives